In this fast paced, increasingly digital workplace world, the desire to reinvent our workplaces and workforces to intersect the latest market trends, opportunities and changes – or to respond to threats in those areas – is strong. The ability to attract and retain the best talent is also a key driver, as is the containment of cost and emphasis on sustainability. With all these pressures, we need to change – so what are the key steps to securing the transformation to a new way of working?
1. Be clear about what you want to achieve through workplace transformation
This seems obvious – but surprisingly it is often the simple questions that trip organisations up. What is the change you are seeking to bring about – and why? How will things be different compared to today? And why?
The development of a clear, coherent workplace strategy is essential. This is the blueprint which articulates the workplace experience that you want people to have, day in, day out; and how the workplace will add value to the organisation and help it achieve its strategic objectives. The “workplace experience” refers to wherever people are working – not just in offices, but on the move, at home, on client sites or anywhere else they work.
The workplace strategy answers the questions – what experience do we want our people to have and how will we ensure that we deliver that experience for people every day so they can do their best work?
2. Secure the power to transform the workplace
If the organisation is undergoing a business transformation – then clearly the workplace and how people work together will need to change to align with new strategic goals and objectives.
If the organisation is not seeking to make changes, then what is driving the workplace transformation, and where is the power behind the desire to make the change? Often the drivers relate to cost reduction / containment or some sort of property related event such as a lease expiry or break clause which provides a need (and opportunity!) to think differently about the workplace. Other drivers may be concerned with the growth or contraction of the workforce population. All these drivers relate to cost/property, not necessarily directly to the organisation or its strategic objectives.
The temptation therefore is to embark upon a workplace transformation journey that is potentially disconnected to the strategic organisational objectives, thereby missing a trick as they can all help to leverage an organisational transformation.
Under any of these situations, we must secure the power that is required to cause the organisation to change. This power rarely sits within Corporate Real Estate – beyond the ability to handle the locational and logistical decisions and arrangements.
If we want people to work and behave differently, that power needs to come from elsewhere. Ideally the support should emanate from either the head of the organisation or someone in a senior position – to whom people look for leadership. Someone who they trust to make good decisions and lead them into the future – someone who will help them make sense of the change, and why it is being made.
3. Do your homework!
Before embarking upon any change, it’s vital to secure a good, detailed understanding of how the organisation works today. What works, how it works, what doesn’t work and why it doesn’t. Here is a quick list of the information we need:
- What vision for the future does the leadership hold?
- What does success look like?
- How is the space being utilised?
- How do people work – and how would they like to work in the future?
- What aspects of the workplace help or hinder effective working?
- How does the building and technology infrastructure support current and potential future ways of working?
- How do we currently handle change and what would need to change for us to work the way we’d like in the future?
Through doing this we can establish potential wins for different communities – stakeholders, leaders, managers, staff members. Gathering data and listening to views is a vital part of establishing a robust plan.
Analysis of this data, together with the over-riding organisational objectives, makes it possible to identify potential solutions and plans for delivering the best workplace experience for the people working in the organisation.
4. Construct the case for change
Using all the data and inputs from Step 3 – we need a clear, unambiguous “case for change”. An articulation of what the change is (what we are changing from / to); why we are making the change; how things will work in the future and how we will deliver the change; and when the change in the workplace will happen.
Our firm conviction is that only when we can answer all of these questions (in some detail), can the change be understood, enabling people to make informed decisions about how the change will affect them, what’s in it for them and what the wins / losses are for them personally and for their team. This is the core of our change management model and approach – securing first a rational understanding of the change (as opposed to what people THINK the change is about) enabling people to make up their mind about how they feel about it, and how they can make it work.
5. Provide change management support
Delivering change in the workplace involves a lot of employee engagement and hence takes time and patience. Each person makes a journey of discovery that will lead them into the future way of working. How well they are supported will influence:
- whether they feel confident about the future – i.e. “is this going to work for me?”
- if they trust those leading the change
- whether they are prepared to “give it a go”
- the degree of pain or anxiety they experience
When we embark upon a change that we want to make – it feels quite different to the change that is “imposed” on us. We are in control, we can take our time, find answers to our questions, weigh up the pros and cons. Where the change is something that we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for ourselves, then we don’t feel in control, we can’t say “no”, we don’t always have our questions answered to our satisfaction and generally we keep asking “why”?
Supporting people through this process demands that we answer all their questions, engage in a dialogue with each person to ensure they feel as comfortable with the change as possible. They still may not like the change, but if they are well informed and are prepared to give it a go, then that’s a good outcome.
Recognising that everyone absorbs messages at different times, in different ways and at different speeds adds to the complexity of the change management strategy. Vital to its success is the ability to connect with each person to ensure they have the best opportunity to be part of delivering that success.
6. Plan ongoing “maintenance” of the change to support the transformation
There are different aspects to this activity – and although this is Step 6, it should be thought about during the transformation project and planed for.
One aspect is the recognition that change takes a long time to be achieved. If the workplace transformation has a physical component (i.e. the office is being relocated or we are changing the office configuration), then the move-in / go-live date tends to be viewed as the end of the project delivery. In terms of the physical workplace, it certainly needs to be ready for occupation on “Day 1”, but for human beings, this is just the next step in their change journey.
The change journey starts at the beginning of the transformation project – but it doesn’t stop on “Day 1” – it continues far into the future. People will often take any opportunity to revert to old ways and habits, so there does need to be a maintenance component which reviews how well the new ways of working are settling down. As the new ways become “the way we do things around here” – i.e. they are considered and spoken about as “normal” in terms of recruitment, organisation promotion, reinforcement of core values etc., then it can be said to be embedded in the organisational DNA. That can take a long time and requires sustained effort.
The other aspect to Step 6 is that if we are to work differently and use the workplace differently, then how we manage and deliver the workplace must also change. The move to the new world of Workplace management (yet another transition!) is worth some thought – and I recommend our series of blogs on that topic, which will certainly get you thinking.
This blog is one of a series of thought pieces written by AWA Associates on matters work and place. Look out for further pieces by following us on LinkedIn or Twitter. Further topics are listed above for you to explore and read at your leisure.